Johnson and Johnson a manufacturer of health care products is suing the American Red Cross over the use of the Red Cross trademark for commercial purposes.
In the suit Johnson and Johnson not only sues the Red Cross but also several companies that are licensing the use of the Red Cross emblem to sell healthcare products.
Johnson and Johnson is stating that the Red Cross has used the red cross emblem to license other commercial companies to sell products in competition with Johnson and Johnson, and would like the Red Cross to stop licensing the Red Cross trademark, in addition all products bearing the trademark are to be surrendered to Johnson and Johnson. Here's Johnson and Johnson's statement on the case. "We were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes on all types of products being sold in many different retail and other commercial outlets. These products include baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers."
In response the American Red Cross issued a press statement. The Red Cross states that it has been selling commercially available first aid kits in the US since 1903. That by offering Red Cross first aid kits at retail locations the Red Cross is reaching more Americans and the Red Cross can raise more money for humanitarian programs and services. And that Johnson and Johnson is not letting the Red Cross use its own emblem and carry out its mission.
It appears that a large public company, Johnson and Johnson is suing the American Red Cross, a large nonprofit, over the right of the Red Cross to license products. Johnson and Johnson is bringing the suit because it fears that Red Cross licensed products will reduce its products. The Red Cross is defending itself in the suit and portraying Johnson and Johnson as an unscrupulous company because it would sue the Red Cross. Johnson and Johnson is a very large health products company probably best known for its handling of the Tylenol crisis in the 1980's. When tampering with Tylenol caused the company to recall all doses and reissue with tamper proof bottles. The Red Cross is an extremely well respected organization which has helped many people in the United States and overseas, and touches millions of Americans through blood drives. The Red Cross was however heavily criticized in the last six years for mishandling the dispersal of 911 funds and the accompanying blood drive.
With respect to public opinion, Johnson and Johnson maybe in a losing battle because the company is suing a well respected nonprofit, even if both organizations are billion dollar entities.
Johnson and Johnson is a $53.3 billion company founded in 1886. The American Red Cross was founded in 1881, had is a $3.88 billion nonprofit chartered by the US Congress in 1900 to carry out responsibilities delegated to it by the federal government. Among these responsibilities are:
- To fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory, assigned to national societies for the protection of victims of conflict,
- To provide family communications and other forms of support to the U.S. military, and
- To maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the National Response Plan coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Federal government owns the Red Cross headquarters and the appointment of the Chairman of the board of governors for the Red Cross has to be ratified by the President of the United States. The Red Cross has a unique and special relationship with the United States Government, which is reminiscent of the relationship between the British Government and the British Broadcasting Corporation; in British jargon the American Red Cross is a QUANGO, a QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.
The International Committee for the Red Cross was founded in 1863, which developed the provisions of the Geneva Conventions; and the US Government signed the Geneva Convention in 1881. Parts of the provisions of the Geneva Convention are related to humanitarian law governing use of the Red Cross emblem. According to the provisions about the misuse of the emblem found in the provisions of humanitarian law governing use of the emblem.
Misuse of the emblem
Any use not expressly authorized by IHL constitutes a misuse of the emblem. There are three types of misuse:
- Imitation, meaning the use of a sign, which, by its shape and/or colour, may cause confusion with the emblem; - Usurpation, i.e. the use of the emblem by bodies or persons not entitled to do so (commercial enterprises, pharmacists, private doctors, non-governmental organizations and ordinary individuals, etc.); if persons normally authorized to use the emblem fail to do so in accordance with the rules in the Conventions and Protocols, this also constitutes usurpation; - Perfidy, i.e. making use of the emblem in time of conflict to protect combatants or military equipment; perfidious use of the emblem is a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflict. - Misuse of the emblem for protective purposes in time of war jeopardizes the system of protection set up by IHL. - Misuse of the emblem for indicative purposes undermines its image in the eyes of the public and consequently reduces its protective power in time of war. - The States, party to the Geneva Conventions have undertaken to introduce penal measures for preventing and repressing misuse of the emblem in wartime and peacetime alike.
As the US Government has ratified the Geneva Convention, and the conventions and treaties basically state the Red Cross has the exclusive use of the Red Cross emblem I think the Red Cross could argue that the American Red Cross has had exclusive rights to the Red Cross emblem since 1881. However, Johnson and Johnson might have an argument that it has exclusive rights to the use of the Red Cross trademark for commercial purposes since the US Government developed the American Red Cross charter.
Johnson and Johnson are suing the Red Cross and the other companies listed because the company fears the additional competition. I was also thinking the company might be concerned that the Red Cross might require Johnson and Johnson to license the trademark from the Red Cross.
What’s interesting from a social media perspective is that Johnson and Johnson is blogging about the court case, this article “You’re Doing What?!” on the JNJ BTW blog discusses the court case. The majority of comments are negative, but also quite a few are supportive of the Red Cross.
I vividly recall the controversy about the Red Cross around 911, which gives me some pause for thought in this whole incident, and as I've spent several days reading the history of the Red Cross and the Johnson and Johnson's website I think I can see both sides of each organization’s argument. In one sense why is a commercial organization using the Red Cross emblem? Surely it should be reserved for humanitarian purposes, especially as the US Government signed the treaty in 1882. Yet because the US Government did not actually set up the charter for the organization to govern its treaty obligations until 1900, Johnson and Johnson were able to use the trademark in the meantime. Other companies including a shoe manufacturer continue to use the Red Cross trademark for commercial purposes. The argument is a little obscure, as all this happened over 100 years ago, yet I think many people will not be supportive of Johnson and Johnson because it is a large company suing a nonprofit, no matter how big the Red Cross is and despite recent controversies. Will the management of the public discussion between the Red Cross and Johnson and Johnson influence public opinion? I think so; Johnson and Johnson face an uphill struggle. I wish that both organizations could have resolved their differences yet I think Johnson and Johnson have made a wrong move here.
What’s next for the company? More blog posts, I’d suggest featuring all opinions from inside the company even those people who disagree with the company’s suit.